Have you spent a lot of your parenting time using "scare tactics" to get your kids to obey? Focusing on the horrible statistics or outcomes of their choices will surely make them avoid life's pitfalls at all cost, right? Not necessarily.
Based on research, using these scare tactics may actually increase the likelihood of the undesired behavior. It seems that programs which try to keep teens off drugs, avoid committing crimes or to practice safe sex or abstinence actually come off as a challenge more than a warning to heed.
Teens may think "it will never happen to me" or "I can beat the odds" or "It must be something fun if they're trying to make me avoid it." Being told "no" often makes the activity more attractive or inviting to adolescence. Many of us know through observing others or firsthand experience what choices are bad or good. So, how can we get our children to avoid these pitfalls?
Scare tactics aren't all bad as long as they are used correctly. Teaching kids ways to say no to drugs or giving them more positive reasons to not commit crime or have premarital sex can provide them with further knowledge to make better choices.
"...[W]e should share not just scary statistics but also positive alternatives," states an article on scare tactics. Don't just try to scare your kids into submission; teach them better alternatives. For instance:
Just say no to drugs, alcohol and smoking.
Share pictures, statistics and possible health outcomes of using these substances. After all, these can all lead to death or at least poor health. Lung cancer, drunk driving, loss of normal bodily or brain functions and addiction are all possible outcomes of using these harmful substances. Jail time and a permanent record is also likely from underage or illegal use. But with the idea that teens are invincible and nothing bad can ever happen to them, you need more.
Encourage and support alternative healthy activities for your teens. Discuss what they are interested in or which activities they would like to try. Sports, music, theater arts, reading or writing, an after-school job, volunteering or other activities are some ideas. These activities are fun, engaging, take time and energy, but, most of all, they can leave your child feeling more fulfilled and less likely to seek dangerous substances for recreation or for a means to make friends.
Additionally, many of these activities require a healthy mind and body, which may be another deterrent. Teach your children about diet and exercise and how their body uses foods and drinks to operate properly. Explain how drugs, alcohol and smoking can actually inhibit a lot of functions which can damage their chances at being as successful as they'd like. It's important for them to know that some substances can have lasting effects—even long after they've stopped using it.
Obviously, raging hormones and other factors can lead to sexual promiscuity. There are risks to engaging in sexual behaviors—pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and, though it may seem like that's what you want now, you may regret it later.
Many teens have sex before they are ready because they feel pressured or afraid that their boyfriend or girlfriend will break up with them if they don't engage in sex. Parents need to have upfront discussions with their children about sex and be willing to answer difficult questions. Have an open relationship with your child where they won't feel judged or get in trouble because they are curious. You are their best resource, and they need to feel safe talking to you and know they can get correct information.
Decide what your family values are and help your children understand why they matter. Some parents encourage abstinence while others may stress the importance of making sure you're in love before deciding to have sex—and to practice safe sex when the time comes. Above all, no matter what choices your child makes, you need to make sure they know you love them, even, and perhaps especially, if their choices go against your family values.
Sex is a special experience between couples where you fully commit yourself to one person physically, emotionally and sexually. Sex bonds a couple together through physiological changes with the body and mind. It's not just for recreation, but to help build a close intimate relationship. Sex is a vulnerable time for both partners where love, trust, and absolute commitment will make it all the more special. Having sex for the wrong reasons leads to sadness, betrayal, embarrassment and myriad of other consequences.
These are just a couple of instances where parents or teachers may use scare tactics to literally scare kids and teens to behave a certain way. The plan usually backfires by making the "no-nos" look more appealing because it is forbidden.
While the statistics and health or other risks are important to point out, it's also important to tell your children about healthy, safe and fun alternatives to those behaviors. Share positive advantages to avoiding negative behaviors. If they can't see the advantage on the flip-side, there's not any incentive for them to obey.